The White House announced on Wednesday that the United States will begin withdrawing the roughly 2,000 U.S. military troops deployed to Syria engaged in fighting and defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In a statement released on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that troops deployed to Syria would begin returning to the U.S. “has defeated the territorial caliphate.”
“These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders said in the statement. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
Sanders did not elaborate on what the next phase of the campaign was going to be, but added in the statement that U.S. remains ready to continue and “re-engage” the fight against Islamic terrorist globally despite the withdraw from Syria.
“The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders,” Sanders’s statement read.
Sanders’ statement was published shortly after President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that the U.S. has “defeated ISIS.”
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Defense issued a statement on Wednesday reiterating the information in Sanders’ statement. Neither provided a timeline or if the withdrawal would include all U.S. troops in Syria.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that all U.S. State Department officials in Syria were being evacuated within 24 hours, citing a U.S. official speaking under the condition of anonymity. The same official said in the report that the timeline of troop withdrawal was between 60 and 100 days.
The U.S. began engaging ISIS in Syria in 2014 following the militant organization declaring its caliphate and taking control of large territories in Syria and Iraq, making the Syrian city of Raqqa its capital. The U.S. began targeting ISIS with airstrikes and used mainly Special Operations troops on the group in a training and advising role to support ground operations against ISIS strongholds.
The U.S. troops have been working with Kurdish and Arab militias in Syria, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to defeat ISIS in the country.
Reports have indicated that ISIS controls less than one percent of the territory it gained since declaring its caliphate. ISIS’s last stronghold, Hajin, is on the verge of being defeated by SDF forces. ISIS no longer controls any territory in Iraq where about 5,200 U.S. troops are stationed.
The U.S. backing of the SDF has drawn criticism from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who views the SDF as a terrorist organization. Erdogan has repeatedly made threats to wage a war against the SDF.
The decision to begin withdrawing troops from Syria garnered criticism from Trump’s own political party. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R. SC, called the troop withdrawal “a huge Obama-like mistake.”
“Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake,” Sen. Graham posted to Twitter on Wednesday.
“After visiting Syria earlier this year, it is abundantly clear the approximately 2,000 American troops stationed there are vital to our national security interests,” Graham said in a statement released on Wednesday.
“An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia,” the statement added. “I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.”
Russia praised the U.S. decision to withdraw the U.S. troops out of Syria on Wednesday. TASS Russian News Agency reported the Russian Foreign Mistry said on Wednesday that the troop withdrawal creates an opportunity to settle the crisis and form a constitutional committee in Syria, according to Reuters.
Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the region, said they would study the U.S. withdrawal and what implications it will have on Israel.
“We will study the timeline, how it will be done and of course the implications for us. In any case, we will make sure to maintain Israel’s security and protect ourselves from this arena,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
Netanyahu added that he had spoken to President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the phone over the last couple of days concerning the withdrawal and that both reassured him the U.S. has “other ways to have influence in the area.”